Interview: Journalist Claudia Méndez creates interactive map of homicides in Guatemala City

After finishing a year at Harvard as a Latin American Knight Foundation Nieman fellow, Guatemalan journalist Claudia Méndez Arriaza created an interactive map "A life is a life." The map pinpoints homicides in Guatemala City, and, aside from visualizing the data, also includes the names of the victims in this capital city, one of the 10 most violent places in the world, where in 2011 106 of every 100,000 inhabitants was killed. Méndez was inspired by the journalism organization HomicideWatch, which aims to highlight homicides in Washington, D.C., as well as the International Symposium on Online Journalism conference, organized each year by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

The following is an interview the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas conducted with Claudia Méndez about her experience creating this interactive map with the help of a graphic designer and a programer.

What was your goal in creating a site dedicated to homicides in Guatemala City?
The goal is to make a media coverage model that will allow for news outlets to record each homicide victim in the city. It's a way of showing that each person that dies violently here is important. Also, the goal is to create a space where citizens can talk about violence that affects their neighborhoods, work areas, commute areas, based on facts, real numbers, which will also allow for in-depth analysis.

How often do you plan to update the site?
It is in a pilot stage now, and its numbers have been updated every 10 days. I hope to make weekly updates. Not only in numbers, but also in the analysis of the statistics, and stories that show the weekly survey data.

What advice did the creators of HomicideWatch give you for this project?
We talked about how the site evolved from a WordPress blog to a space that now combines blogs, databases, and maps. We also talked about how essential, basic, and important teamwork is between programer and journalist, and how it is fundamental to communicate clearly, and for both teams to be on the same page when talking and making a project.

What resources are needed to continue with this project and what responses have you received from the news outlets you work with?
The Guatemalan newspaper elPeriódico was very enthusiastic during the preliminary presentation, and the TV station Canal Antigua, through Paola Hurtado, gave us a space to spread "A life is a life." The midpoint challenge is to develop a website in a way that, if a news outlet adopts it, it can not only count on regular traffic, but more importantly on the defined and structured process that will make it run.

How did your academic stay at Harvard help you plan and create this project?
At Harvard I was submerged each day in new ideas, in different proposals, in short: excited to think in different ways, to make proposals, to not fear experimenting with new ideas. And a little after the beginning of the year, I became interested in the Geographical Analysis Center conferences that propose the study of phenomenons through space.

What was the most surprising discovery you made while making these maps and gathering information about homicides in Guatemala?
Breaking myths with the certainty of data: areas that are usually tagged as violent, in reality only suffer from violence in specific sectors. To see, for example, that violence is sometimes framed in districts, when they are geographic "waves" that transversely cut across the map. I'm surprised with the phenomenon of injured in the violence, we tend to get surprised with the number of homicides, but the people that are injured in the attacks double this number.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.